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Dietrich v. Weibel

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 28, 2014

CYNTHIA DIETRICH, Plaintiff,
v.
JACKELYN WEIBEL, DONNA WILBERT, DEBRA McCREARY, and HUNTINGTON NATIONAL BANK Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court are the motions to dismiss (Docket Nos. 28, 35) filed by Jackelyn Weibel ("Weibel") and Donna Wilbert ("Wilbert") ( collectively, "Defendants"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) with respect to all claims pled in Plaintiff Cynthia Dietrich's Amended Complaint of November 26, 2013 (Docket No. 27). Plaintiff pleads federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Weibel, and related claims under the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against Weibel and Wilbert. ( Id. ). This Court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (federal question jurisdiction) and 1343 (civil rights). For the following reasons, Weibel's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 28) will be GRANTED, in part, and the Court will not exercise supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 over Plaintiff's remaining state law claims within her Amended Complaint.

II. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

At the time of the events in question in the current action, Plaintiff was a single mother with three children. (Docket No. 27 at 2). During 2004, Plaintiff and her children moved into a one bedroom apartment attached to the home of her mother, Defendant Wilbert. ( Id. ). The home was located at 119 Glasgow Road in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. ( Id. ).

On December 15, 2008, Wilbert and her then-living husband, Frank Wilbert, procured a $100, 000.00 loan ("Loan") from Huntington National Bank ("Huntington"). (Docket No. 27 at 2). The branch of the lending institution from which the loan was secured was located in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania. ( Id. ). At the time, Plaintiff was employed by this branch as a teller. ( Id. ). Approximately $60, 000.00 of the total Loan amount was used to pay the balance of a mortgage and home equity loan owed by Wilbert and her husband. (Docket No. 27 at 3). The remaining $40, 000.00 was placed in a joint account held by Plaintiff and Wilbert. (Docket No. 27 at 10). Wilbert's husband died in April 2009. (Docket No. 27 at 3). Relations between Plaintiff and Wilbert subsequently soured. ( Id. ). On or about May 8, 2011, Plaintiff and her brother, Frankie Wilbert, had a heated verbal exchange and Plaintiff and her brother's children engaged in a physical altercation as a result. ( Id. ). Wilbert sided with Plaintiff's brother, and evicted Plaintiff and her children from her apartment the following day, May 9, 2011. ( Id. ). Plaintiff and Wilbert were thereafter estranged. (Docket No. 27 at 4).

On May 31, 2011, Wilbert filed a Police Citizen Complaint Report at the Office of the District Attorney of Allegheny County. (Docket No. 27 at 4). Wilbert therein indicated that she had no knowledge of the Loan until May 18, 2011, that she and her husband had never signed Loan documents, that she and her husband had never traveled to Huntington's Cranberry Township branch, and that Plaintiff had fraudulently executed Loan documents and forged Wilbert and her husband's signatures. ( Id. ). Defendant Weibel, a detective employed by Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, was assigned to Wilbert's complaint and commenced her investigation in August, 2011. (Docket No. 27 at 5). Weibel interviewed Wilbert and Plaintiff's brother Frankie on August 12, 2011. ( Id. ). Wilbert reiterated that she had no prior knowledge of the Loan, that she did not sign the Loan documents, and that her late husband could not have signed the Loan due to his ill health. ( Id. ). Wilbert did admit to possibly signing at least two checks from the account shared with Plaintiff, and into which $40, 000.00 of the Loan proceeds had been deposited. ( Id. ). She believed that the checks were used to buy appliances. (Docket No. 27 at 6). Wilbert made no specific accusations against Plaintiff during this interview. (Docket No. 27 at 5-7).

Also, on August 12, 2011, Weibel interviewed Debra McCreary ("McCreary"), an employee at the Huntington branch in Cranberry Township. (Docket No. 27 at 7). McCreary was an Account Relationship Associate. ( Id. ). She was also certified by Pennsylvania to act as a notary public. ( Id. ). At the request of the Assistant Branch Manager, Leon Cichoski ("Cichoski"), McCreary often notarized documents for Huntington, sometimes while not in the presence of the signatories. (Docket No. 27 at 7-8). Weibel inspected McCreary's notary log, which indicated that Wilbert's Loan had not been notarized in her or her husband's presence. (Docket No. 27 at 7). McCreary made no mention of any involvement by Plaintiff in the procurement of the Loan. (Docket No. 27 at 8).

On September 6, 2011, Weibel interviewed Plaintiff by telephone regarding Wilbert's Loan. (Docket No. 27 at 9). Plaintiff was able to explain some of the details of the Loan, including its procurement by Wilbert and her husband in December, 2008. (Docket No. 27 at 9). Plaintiff also informed Weibel that she had been making payments on the Loan on her mother's behalf until the family altercation and subsequent eviction in May, 2011. (Docket No. 27 at 9). Plaintiff denied obtaining the Loan. (Docket No. 27 at 9).

Weibel interviewed Cichoski on September 12, 2011. (Docket No. 27 at 8). Cichoski communicated that loan documents were frequently completed over the telephone or outside of the office. (Docket No. 27 at 8). He had a vague recollection of Wilbert's Loan, but did not believe that he was present for the signing of Loan documents, because his signature was missing from the documents where he should have signed. (Docket No. 27 at 8). Other deficiencies in the Loan documents - including a lack of copies of Wilbert and her husband's identifications - were pointed out by Weibel during her interview with Cichoski, but Cichoski was unable to explain these deficiencies. (Docket No. 27 at 9). Cichoski also denied having any knowledge as to whether Plaintiff was involved in procuring the Loan. (Docket No. 27 at 9).

Pursuant to her investigation, Weibel also inspected documents from Huntington regarding the Loan, as well as some account information belonging to Plaintiff and Wilbert. (Docket No. 27 at 9-10). It was readily apparent from these documents that $60, 000.00 of the Loan proceeds was used to pay prior debts of Wilbert and her husband. (Docket No. 27 at 10). The remaining $40, 000.00 was made payable to cash in Wilbert's name, and placed in a bank account held jointly by Wilbert and Plaintiff. (Docket No. 27 at 10). No evidence was reviewed with respect to the ultimate disposition of the funds in the joint bank account. (Docket No. 27 at 10).

On September 27, 2011, Weibel filed an Affidavit of Probable Cause ("Affidavit") against Plaintiff. (Docket No. 27 at 11). Plaintiff was charged therein with violating 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 3922(a)(1) (theft by deception) and 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 4101(a)(3) (forgery). On September 30, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested and incarcerated for approximately eight-and-one-half hours. (Docket No. 27 at 13). A preliminary hearing was held on November 2, 2011. (Docket No. 27 at 13). A criminal trial was conducted on May 15 and 16, 2013. (Docket No. 27 at 13). Contemporaneous to her criminal prosecution, the Pennsylvania State Police and an expert hired by Plaintiff's defense counsel conducted handwriting analyses that revealed that Wilbert had, in fact, signed the Loan documents. (Docket No. 27 at 6). During cross-examination of Wilbert at trial, she admitted to having knowledge of the Loan prior to May 2011. (Docket No. 27 at 13-14). Plaintiff was acquitted of all charges. (Docket No. 27 at 14).

Huntington conducted an internal review of the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the Loan. (Docket No. 27 at 14). Following this review, Huntington released Wilbert from any remaining unpaid balance on the Loan through execution of a satisfaction document on October 20, 2011. (Docket No. 27 at 14). Plaintiff was not implicated as having any involvement with the procurement of the Loan during Huntington's review. (Docket No. 27 at 14).

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court on September 27, 2013. (Docket No. 1). An Amended Complaint followed on November 26, 2013. (Docket No. 27). In Counts I and III of her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Weibel was liable for false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"). (Docket No. 27 at 15, 17). In Counts II, IV, and V[1], Plaintiff asserts that both Weibel and Wilbert are liable for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 27 at 16, 18-19). Counts VI and VII allege state causes of action against McCreary and Huntington, but these are not presently at issue. (Docket No. 27 at 20-21).

Motions to dismiss, and accompanying briefs in support were independently filed by Weibel (Docket Nos. 28, 29) and Wilbert (Docket Nos. 35, 36). Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Weibel's Motion to Dismiss on December 23, 2013. (Docket No. 31). Weibel responded on December 31, 2013. (Docket No. 34). Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Wilbert's Motion to Dismiss on January 28, 2014. (Docket No. 39). No further filings have been submitted by any parties relative to the motions to dismiss. The issues having been fully briefed, the motions filed by Weibel and Wilbert are ripe for disposition.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of a claim, and show that the pleader is entitled to relief. Dismissal of a complaint or portion of a complaint is warranted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) when a claimant fails to sufficiently state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Avoiding dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) requires a pleading party's complaint to provide "enough factual matter" to allow the case to move beyond the pleading stage of litigation; the pleader must "nudge his or her claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570 (2007)).

In assessing the merits of a claim subject to a motion to dismiss, a court must engage in a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). First, factual and legal elements of a claim must be distinguished. Id. Second, it must be determined whether the facts as alleged support a "plausible claim for relief." Id. In making the latter determination, the court must be mindful that the matter pleaded need not include "detailed factual allegations, " Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), and the court must construe all alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). Moreover, a pleading party need only "put forth allegations that raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s].'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213 (quoting Graff v. Subbiah Cardiology Associates, Ltd., 2008 WL 2312671 (W.D. Pa. June 4, 2008)). A well-pleaded complaint, even when "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of... facts is improbable, " will not be dismissed as long as the pleader demonstrates that his or her claim is plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56).

Nevertheless, the facts provided do need to raise the expectation of relief above a purely speculative level, and must include more than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-56). Rule 8(a)(2) "requires a showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id. at 232. "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by ...


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